Report: Prescription drug abuse increasing

SAN DIEGO -- The number of deaths in which prescription drugs played a role increased from 2007 to 2011 in San Diego County, as did the number of pharmacies robbed and the number of opiate-related emergency room visits, according to the county's first Prescription Drug Abuse Report Card released Monday.

"Prescription drug abuse has become a serious problem in our county. Many young people and adults are abusing prescription drugs,'' County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said. "And these drugs can be found at home.''

Last year, prescription drugs contributed to 267 deaths, compared to 211 in 2007, according to the report, which found that 1,164 people died due to prescription drugs during the five-year period.

Methadone, Oxycodone, Valium, Hydrocodone, Morphine and Xanax, or alprazolam, contributed to the most deaths, according to the report.

"The reality is that only a small number of people who abuse prescription drugs die. Therefore, the problem is many times greater than what we are seeing,'' said Dr. Jonathan Lucas, the county's chief deputy medical examiner.

Prescription drugs can be highly addictive and costly -- up to $50 for a 80mg OxyContin pill prior to 2011, which drives some to a cheaper alternative, such as heroin, which in 2011 cost $80 to $100 per gram, according to the report.

Last year, 80 heroin-related deaths were reported and 15 of those were people under 25, the report's authors found. Heroin was the most common intoxicant other than alcohol in people under 30 years of age who died last year.

"We have seen the dangerous consequences of a higher number of people switching from prescription drugs to heroin,'' Lucas said.

The report card showed robberies at pharmacies rose from nine to 26 over the five-year study period, a 188 percent jump. Opiate-related emergency room visits were up 64 percent and the number of juveniles and adults who reported prescription drug misuse also increased.

"The prescription drug problem isn't a onetime phenomenon, but rather a growing problem with serious repercussions to the quality of life in our region,'' said Nick Macchione, director of the County Health and Human Services Agency.

Officials say, what's even more alarming are those at the forefront of this trend. "Recreationally and socially at age 12," said 25 year old Alexis Lovell who told us she started popping pills to get high at her school and it wasn't long before one pill lead to another, and then another, "anti-anxiety medication, Xanax, Valium, Ativan." 
Lovell says her abuse led her to the inevitable, one day she overdosed and ended at the hospital. Experts say a growing number of young people like Lovell are getting hooked on pills very early, without their parents ever realizing there's a problem. 
"They may have too much trust in their kids, they're kids are high performing students and so they may need to realize they still need to be parents," said San Diego County Supervisor, Pam Slater-Price.
She said her district is "ground zero" for this type of misuse especially among young people. "It's a higher income area, the kids have more free time, they have access to cars, they have access to money," said Slater-Price.
"Everybody knows someone who is addicted, they just not might know it," said Lovell who is several years clean now and works as a Substance Abuse Counselor, trying to get the word out about the dangers of this growing epidemic.
Nearly 29,000 pounds of unused prescription drugs were collected in take- back events and drop boxes over the past two years.
Residents were asked to report drug activity in their communities to local law enforcement or call the Prescription Drug Hotline at 877-662-6384.